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Building on the Westside: Q & A with L.A. 5th District City Council candidates

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Growth and development issues on Los Angeles' crowded Westside often leave residents roiling over how best to keep it vibrant without eroding neighborhood life.

In recent days, Times editors posed various questions to the candidates seeking the region's 5th District City Council seat in the March 3 primary. Here are excerpts from their responses to this question:

What approach will you use to evaluate real estate development projects in the district? Is there any project that should not have been approved over the past decade?

Adeena N. Bleich: "We all know there have been projects that have had no forward vision and were built with little regard for their impact on communities. Some developers have taken advantage of a city that was not keeping a close enough eye on how new projects would impact greater communities. . . .

"I would retain on my staff both urban planners and a traffic engineer so that I have the expertise to be able to truly judge the impact of potential development projects. In addition, I would also propose that we require developers to complete impact statements showing not only how a development would impact traffic but also how it would impact local businesses, neighborhoods, schools and the greater vision for what we want our city to look like."

Ron Galperin: "Los Angeles has a capricious and outdated planning and approval process; our residents and businesses deserve better. We must update, and actually follow, our community plans -- along with investing in our infrastructure. I bring to this process extensive knowledge and expertise about planning and development, and my criteria are:

"Does the project fit into the existing neighborhood? Does it help create a more walkable community? Does it address and mitigate potential traffic problems? Is it green? Will the project benefit our economy? . . .

"New projects can erode or enhance our quality of life; it's the job of the council member to make sure that our city develops in a way that brings benefit to us all."

Paul Koretz: "We need to recognize that some areas of the city are already built out, like the 5th Council District. And other areas are crying out for new housing and quality development.

"I will stop the process of issuing negative declarations that exempt developers from complying with the EIR [environmental impact report] process. I will give neighborhoods a greater role in helping plan development in their area, requiring that developers meet early and often with neighborhood groups to ensure that the interests of existing residents are protected. I also will work to ensure that new housing is built close to jobs and transit to help reduce commuting.

"There are a number [of] projects that should not have been built; one that stands out is The Grove, which has dramatically worsened traffic in an area that was already heavily impacted. The Grove is too far from a freeway to handle the quantity of traffic that it generates, and the impact on relatively small surface and residential streets around the project has been truly horrific."

Robert Schwartz: "As a business executive, I have often brought together disparate parties to reach balanced solutions. I would bring that balanced approach to mediating between the needs of homeowners and economic development. I would evaluate each project individually and make decisions that benefit each neighborhood.

"Sometimes there are projects that just should not be approved. Recently I was talking with a voter in the Fairfax district near Fairfax and Rosewood [avenues]. A developer had discovered that the lot next door to this voter was zoned high-density, although it had been a single-family home for decades. The developer purchased that lot, destroyed the house, and put up an apartment building that towered over this voter's home, and the developer got a city-financed density bonus to boot. That project should not have been approved."

Robyn Ritter Simon: "I served for five years on the West L.A. Area City Planning Commission, where I worked with my fellow commissioners to make balanced land-use decisions to protect neighborhoods while allowing our economy to grow and create jobs.

"When weighing a development's value to the community, we must ask if the project will improve the quality of life of the neighborhood and whether it will be a burden to city services and infrastructure. Impacts on traffic and the ability to deliver public safety services must be considered.

"I believe that we must encourage all new buildings to strive for the highest level of LEED certification, for green, energy-efficient buildings. I would encourage as many projects as possible to build to the Silver level, one step above what we currently require in L.A."

David T. Vahedi: "The 5th District has been ground zero for large-scale development. The use of variances has now been turned into the rule instead of the exception. In fact, every single mid-sized to large development that I am aware of has received variances. The result is that property is no longer valued for its current zoning but for its anticipated use with variances. . . .

"A few developers have reaped millions in profits while the residents have had to endure . . . increased traffic congestion, lower police/fire per capita and increased response times.

"The problem we have faced in the 5th District is that we endure all of the development, but retain very little of the benefit of increased tax base for infrastructure such as sidewalk repair, tree trimming, new fire stations, etc.

"I would not have approved the demolition of the ABC Entertainment Center, a nighttime destination, and allowed it to be replaced with a large office building that generated over 4,000 peak-hour trips. In addition . . . Casden's mixed-use project in Westwood was too large for the area. . . . Projects like Avalon Bay and the Mountain in the Valley were simply too large for the existing infrastructure. "

bill.nottingham@latimes.com

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